Mining the riches of the backlist


Marcus Clapham and Clive Reynard were until recently Penguin's rivals. Now they are employees, with a brief to revitalise its backlist non-fiction publishing. </p><p>
Penguin unveils a new publishing programme at the London Book Fair next week. The Classic Biography, Classic History and Classic Military History lists are the first fruits of a plan to republish, in accessibly priced editions, outstanding works from the backlists of Penguin and others.</p><p>
The lists are being run by Marcus Clapham, editorial director, and Clive Reynard, marketing director. Previously with Wordsworth, they joined the Penguin Press division, which includes Classics as well as heavyweight non-fiction, in August last year. Their move raised a few eyebrows in the trade, because for several years at Wordsworth they had been thorns in Penguin's side, publishing &pound;1 classics that forced their formidable rival to respond with its own &pound;1 range and to undercut its flagship list.</p><p>
Not long before the appointments, Penguin and Wordsworth had settled a legal dispute arising from a Penguin claim that Wordsworth was passing off its classics to look like Penguins. A further piquant element in the move was Mr Clapham's previous history with Penguin. The company had employed him in the 1980s but made him redundant after four years.</p><p>
"If you can't beat them, employ them," might be a cynical interpretation of Penguin's actions. Mr Clapham says that the offer came at a good time. "We'd gone as far as we could with Wordsworth." His and Mr Reynard's departures must have been a blow for the Hertfordshire-based company; but Mr Clapham says that Wordsworth founder and m.d. Michael Trayler "was incredibly generous about it all. And I see no reason why Wordsworth should not go on doing well."</p><p>
It does not look as if Penguin has employed Mr Clapham and Mr Reynard purely as a spoiling tactic. The group is in a strong position to take advantage of the backlist publishing in which they specialise, and is following the leads of others: Random House's Pimlico has brought back into print many classic works, while Bing Taylor at Orion is embarking on an intensive schedule of reissues for the Phoenix Press list. "I went through the Weidenfeld [an imprint of Orion] archive this time last year," Mr Clapham says. "There's a lot of very good stuff there, which should keep Bing going for some time."</p><p>
Mr Clapham and Mr Reynard clearly enjoyed their stint as publishing mavericks, and they have not found it a handicap at their new, "establishment" company. "Everyone has been very encouraging and friendly," Mr Clapham says. "Stuart Proffitt [Penguin Press editorial director], for example, could not have been more helpful."</p><p>
The new lists, more than half of which come from Penguin backlists, feature some very well-known names: among them this year are Lytton Strachey, George Melly (with an autobiographical trilogy in one volume), Christopher Hibbert, Christopher Hill, David Cecil, J H Plumb, A L Rowse, G M Trevelyan, Alan Moorehead, Correlli Barnett, J B Priestley and Martin Middlebrook.</p><p>
After the July launch, there will be two titles in each list a month, except in November and December. Most will be priced at &pound;4.99, with crown quarto titles costing up to &pound;9.99. First printings are likely to be in the region of 5,000 copies. Plans to expand the range will be announced in the future.</p><p>
Mr Clapham believes that there is an appetite among readers for excellently written non-fiction narratives, even if more modern works on the same subjects are available. "Sometimes these titles have been overtaken by modern research, but in a great many cases they haven't."</p><p>
His optimism is supported by the reaction to the lists of Martin Mullin, history buyer at W H Smith High Street. "The books are very attractive, at great prices," he says.</p><p>
Mr Clapham says that this initiative belongs to the tradition established by Penguin's founder. "It's the old Allen Lane concept of good writing at affordable prices."</p><p>
Royal Dukes Fulford (&pound;4.99, 0141390026); Joan of Arc Lucie-Smith (&pound;4.99, 39000X); Owning Up Melly (&pound;4.99, 390018); Queen Victoria Strachey (&pound;4.99, 390042).</p><p>
The First Four Georges Plumb (&pound;4.99, 390034); The Elizabethan Renaissance Rowse (&pound;4.99, 390050); English Social History Trevelyan (&pound;6.99, 309069); The Age of Scandal White (&pound;4.99, 390077).</p><p>
Military History</p><p>
Engage the Enemy More Closely Barnett (&pound;9.99, 390085); The Art of Warfare on Land Chandler (&pound;7.99, 390093); The SAS at War 1941-45 Kemp (&pound;4.99, 390107); Sieges of the Middle Ages Warner (&pound;4.99, 390115). </p><p>